Antim Panghal has secured an Olympic quota for India after winning bronze in women's 53kg freestyle at the World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia on Thursday.
She beat Emma Malmgren of Sweden 16 - 6 for a victory by Technical Superiority. Antim took a big 5-0 lead but then Malmgren locked her in a double armbar to make it 5-2 and then a leg hold to make it 5-4. The incredible opening round ended 6-6. She started the second round the way she did the first, rolling her opponent for four quick points before closing out the game for the big win.
Malmgren is a wrestler of rich pedigree. She won the U23 European Championships this year and the senior European Championships too. In last year's Worlds Malmgren had been beaten by another Indian in the bronze medal bout -- Vinesh Phogat.
Meanwhile, Antim was competing under a neutral flag due to the suspension of the Wrestling Federation of India by the world body. The quota she's won, though, will go to India.
She had started the tournament with a massive upset in the first round, defeating reigning world champion Dominique Olivia Parrish of the USA 3-2 (a victory by points with technical points). The former junior world champion Antim, recovered from 0-2 down with a takedown to make it 2-2 before winning after Parrish lost a point for passivity, a marker of Antim's defensive qualities.
The 19-year-old Indian wrestler then beat Poland's Roksana Marta Zasina 10-0 (a victory by technical superiority) in the pre-quarters and then Russia's Natalia Malysheva 9-6 (a victory by points with technical points) in the quarterfinals.
In her semifinal, she lost to Kaladzinskaya -- a name familiar to Indian wrestling as she had beaten Vinesh in the Tokyo Olympics. The category was eventually won by the division's most dominant wrestler, Akari Fujinami of Japan.
Antim had had a tumultuous build-up to the World Championships. In August, it had been announced that Vinesh Phogat, who had been sitting in protest against the ousted Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, would be getting a bye in selection trials for the upcoming Asian Games in the 53kg category. Antim had filed a court case while simultaneously competing in (and winning) the trials set for the Games, trials from which Vinesh had been exempt. The case was dismissed by the Delhi High Court almost at the same time as Antim won the trials in the Indira Gandhi stadium across town.
She then fought to have the date for the trials of the World Championships pushed back, and later went on to win that too. In the meantime, Vinesh announced on social media that she was injured and would be undergoing a surgery that would keep her out of the Asian Games and the Worlds trials.
What makes Antim's performance stand out even more is that no other Indian made it past the quarterfinal stage across categories.
(Additional reporting by Shyam Vasudevan)